Think the Chicago Bears regret choosing to hire Marc Trestman as the team's head coach over Bruce Arians a couple offseasons ago? Trestman lasted only two non-playoff years in Chicago and was fired after the 2014 season -- now the franchise is rebuilding under John Fox. Arians, a finalist with Trestman, has worked a miracle in the desert with Arizona, following up a 10-6 record in 2013 (just missing playoffs) with an 11-5 mark in 2014. The Cards probably win the NFC West and are the conference's top seed last year if QB Carson Palmer doesn't suffer a season-ending injury. Instead they were a wild-card team and lost that game at Carolina.
If Palmer stays healthy, a big "if," the Cards should again challenge the Seahawks for the NFC West title. The big loss was defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, now the Jets' head coach. Arizona was 7-1 at home last season, 6-2 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under" thanks to that great Bowles defense. The Cards' 2015 home schedule ranks as the fifth-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' 2014 winning percentage of .566. It's the second-toughest in the NFC West behind San Francisco.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 13 -- Saints (+2.5): Be interesting to see if that new Arizona defense is as aggressive as Bowles' blitz-heavy unit was. The team promoted outside linebackers coach James Bettcher to coordinator, so things probably will be the same. First meeting with Saints since a 31-7 loss in New Orleans in September 2013. Palmer threw for only 187 yards and two picks. Key trend: Cardinals 7-3 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC South.
Sept. 27 -- 49ers (+2.5): This follows a trip to Chicago for Arizona, while San Francisco is off a trip to Pittsburgh. The Cardinals beat the visiting 49ers also in Week 3 last year, 23-14. Palmer was out injured, and Drew Stanton was 18-for-33 for 244 yards and two third-quarter touchdown passes to John Brown. Arizona snapped a four-game losing streak to San Francisco and beat the 49ers for just the second time in their last 11 meetings. Key trend: Cards 0-6 ATS as a home favorite in series.
Oct. 4 -- Rams (+3.5): This follows a home game vs. Pittsburgh for St. Louis. The Cardinals beat the visiting Rams 31-14 in Week 10 last year, but it was very costly as Palmer left with what would be his season-ending injury with Arizona down 14-10 with 11:28 left in the game. In a little under four minutes, Stanton and the defense combined to score three touchdowns to lead the comeback. Stanton hit Brown on a 48-yard TD, and then Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie both returned interceptions for a score. Key trend: Cardinals have covered five straight at home in series as a favorite of at least a field goal.
Oct. 26 -- Ravens (+2): This is Arizona's lone Monday night appearance and follows games in Detroit and Pittsburgh. Baltimore is off a trip to San Francisco in Week 6. These teams haven't played since 2011, and Baltimore hasn't visited since 2007. Ravens have won four straight in the series. Key trend: Cardinals 3-3 ATS at home vs. AFC North.
Nov. 22 -- Bengals (+3): Long stretch between home games as in Week 8 the Cardinals are at Cleveland, on the bye and then Week 10 in Seattle on a Sunday night. Short week for Cincinnati as it hosts Houston on Monday night in Week 10. Teams last met in 2011, and Cincinnati hasn't visited since 2003. Key trend: Cardinals 3-7 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC teams.
Dec. 10 -- Vikings (+5.5): This is a Thursday night game. I'm assuming that Adrian Peterson will be playing for the Viking and not Cardinals here -- Arizona was rumored as a possible destination if the Vikings traded him. The Cardinals come off games at San Francisco and then St. Louis. Minnesota hosts Seattle in Week 13. First meeting since 2012. Key trend: Cardinals 6-4 ATS in past 10 at home as a favorite of at least 5 points.
Dec. 27 -- Packers (pick'em): About as tough a two-game home stretch to close things out as you could ask for begins with Green Bay, which comes off a trip to Oakland in Week 15. The Cards are off a trip to Philadelphia. Packers fans may remember the last trip to Arizona: a 51-45 shootout playoff win on Jan. 10, 2010, as Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner traded touchdown passes. Key trend: I fully expect the Cards to be dogs here; they are 6-4 ATS in past 10 at home as a dog.
Jan. 3 -- Seahawks (TBA): Again, no Week 17 opening lines because too many intangibles that final Sunday. Seattle is off a home game against St. Louis in Week 16. The Seahawks won in Arizona in Week 16 last year, 35-6, to tie Arizona for first in the NFC West but win the tiebreaker. Both Palmer and Stanton were out, so third-stringer Ryan Lindley got the start and was predictably terrible, going 18-for-44 for 216 yards and an interception. The Cardinals are 13-3 at home in Arians' two seasons, and two of the losses are to Seattle. Key trend: Over/under is 9-1 in past 10 between these two in Arizona.
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